Boating While Intoxicated BWI


In Minnesota, it is a crime for an individual to operate or be in physical control of a motorboat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Similar to being charged with a DWI, an individual charged with the offense of boating while intoxicated (BWI) will face the same consequences as those charged with a DWI offense.

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An individual’s first BWI is a misdemeanor offense, and may result in up to 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine, or a 90-day boating suspension. On the other hand, the existence of prior DWI offenses and/or other aggravating factors may result in harsher penalties, which are discussed at length below.


As with DWI offenses, being charged with a BWI is an enhanceable offense. In other words, a conviction will be used to enhance the penalties of future offenses. While most first time BWI offenses are misdemeanors, if aggravating factors are present, a first time offender could be charged with gross misdemeanor BWI.  The difference between a misdemeanor and a gross misdemeanor is the maximum fine, jail time and probationary period that can be imposed. Aggravating factors include (1) having a blood alcohol level of 0.16 or more, (2) having a child under the age of 16 in the boat at the time of the offense, or (3) having a prior DWI or BWI related offense within 10 years of the time of the new offense.  A fourth offense within a ten year period may result in felony charges.  In those cases, a prison sentence is possible.


If charged with a gross misdemeanor BWI, an individual may face penalties such as a fine up to $3,000, a maximum of 365 days in jail, required participation in a chemical dependency evaluation, revocation of driver’s license privileges, plate impoundment of vehicles owned by the individual, or forfeiture of the motorboat.


If charged with a felony BWI, an individual may face a penalty of three to seven years in prison, a fine up to $14,000, and extended revocation of driver’s license privileges.


In this State, open container laws do not apply to motorboats.  This means that both passengers and motorboat operators can have open containers of alcohol while on a boat. However, the driver of the boat must be able to operate it in a safe and careful manner. If he or she fails to do so due to the level of alcohol consumed, the issuance of a citation may result.

If an individual is convicted of a DWI and is required to have an ignition interlock system installed in his vehicle, he does not have to automatically also install an ignition interlock system in his boat. Minnesota law does not require an individual to have a driver’s license to operate a boat, and the individual would thus not be required to install an ignition interlock system on his boat unless it is specifically requested by the court.

The consequences of a BWI charge are serious.  If you or someone you know is charged with a BWI, contact a criminal defense attorney to help you decide the best course of action.

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